El Deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell

I used to teach a unit on memoirs and autobiographies to third graders and while I had some pretty great books for my reading groups, none of them could have touched the excellence that is El Deafo.  Not only would I have joyfully shared this with my students, but they would have adored it fully in return.

People always talk about how graphic novels are the perfect way to get non-readers excited about books.  And certainly, El Deafo’s adorable illustrations will draw readers in.  But it’s also noteworthy, because it’s the kind of book that will draw in readers that just don’t think they’re into graphic novels. Many readers (all right, some of whom are stodgy old fogeys like myself) just don’t consider themselves readers of graphic novels, which means they are missing a whole genre worth of potential goodness and a whole art form, honestly.  But El Deafo is the kind of book that has the power to draw anyone in.  This means that not only will many middle grades readers find themselves with a new section of the library to peruse, but it means that hopefully, some of the old guard gatekeepers of books will start appreciating, acknowledging, recognizing and recommending graphic novels to readers.

Cece Bell starts her story when she becomes ill with meningitis, which was the source of her hearing loss.  We follow her story, her experiences with her hearing loss and friendships over the years.  Some of her tales of friendship woe are the type of universal struggles that kids face everyday, while some are more unique to her disability, but all of them feature humor, honesty and awesome imagination.  We talk all the time about books providing a mirror for kids; that all readers should have the opportunity to see themselves in books and this fills a much needed void.  Books with diverse characters also offer all readers an opportunity to connect to people that are unlike those they might know.  When readers connect with characters, they become real and preconceived ideas of things being “other” or “strange” are altered or removed.

Age Recommendation: Grades 3+.  I think the general book and plot would probably be best suited for 4-8th grades, but I know plenty of third graders who would have loved it and had no difficulty with the plot and content.  I would have liked a note somewhere in the book about the differences between the devices that are currently available and in use for people with hearing loss or deafness and those that Cece used growing up.  It’s a question I’m sure many kids will have, whether or not they voice it.  Adults may anticipate this and want to share information about new technology.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – We see a rabbit in her underwear.  She watches soap operas where people confess their love and mention that they would like to have a baby with someone.  At a slumber party, girls mention another girl was kissing a boy.  Girls talk about “liking” a boy.  A lot of the end of the book revolves around a crush she has. She imagines a date with him and kissing him.
Profanity – “Hell”, “heck”,
Death, Violence and Gore – A “friend” has her dog bite Cece.  She kicks her mother.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Mothers smoke and drink.  Her older sister sneaks a cigarette.
Frightening or Intense Things – Cece has meningitis at age 4.  She is shown in a hospital bed and there are illustrations of her being stuck by needles.


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